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Tilting at Windmills

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May 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

FUBAR IN IRAQ....Today's New York Times story about the Bush administration's Keystone Kops approach to training police in Iraq might as well be an encyclopedia entry for "FUBAR." Three different groups wrote plans that nobody on the ground ever heard of; the number of trainers was laughably minuscule to start with and got even more laughable over time; and nobody really seemed to care much because they didn't figure we'd be staying around for long anyway. It's the usual story with this gang.

You have to read the whole thing to really get a sense of what was going on, but in the meantime here's a small aside. According to Jay Garner, a plan to dispatch 6,000 police officers to Iraq was opposed by Frank Miller, a former NSC official who coordinated the American effort to govern Iraq. Is that true?

Mr. Miller, who left the government last year, confirmed his opposition. He said the assessment by the C.I.A. led administration officials to believe that Iraq's police were capable of maintaining order. Douglas J. Feith, then the Defense Department's under secretary for policy, said in an interview that the C.I.A.'s prewar assessment deemed Iraq's police professional, an appraisal that events proved "fundamentally wrong."

But Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the C.I.A., said the agency's assessment warned otherwise. "We had no reliable information on individual officers or police units," he said. The "C.I.A.'s written assessment did not judge that the Iraqi police could keep order after the war. In fact, the assessment talked in terms of creating a new force."

A copy of the document, which is classified, could not be obtained.

If Doug Feith says it, it's a pretty good bet that exactly the opposite is the case. Still, why is this report classified? Surely this would be one of those cases that Scott McClellan told us about in which declassification would be in the public interest? Right?

Kevin Drum 1:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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The report suggests that in order to have done it right, we needed to have sufficient number of American advisors in each of the thousand police stations. That would have meant a British colonial type of an occupation, which certainly would not have been the ideal position for our country either.

I think that the main problem is that the idea of Iraq invasion was fundamentally unsound ab initio, and no amount of careful planning and execution would have resulted in the beautification of the ugly pig.

Posted by: lib on May 21, 2006 at 2:09 AM | PERMALINK

Once a member of the DC community, fate has since transported me to other lands where I've come in contact with people - arguably not as well educated as many DC residents - who have no passion to set the regs for the rest of the world. Someday an astute observer is going to draw a parallel between the dutiful white collar architects of this debacle to the fundamental consciousness of federal government intellectuals convinced that their grad school education grants them the right to organize the world as they see fit- regardless of the facts. In this regard the war has been a microcosm for grand scale social engineering by "experts" who got where they are based on the political platform of keeping big government out of the lives of commoners. So far you'd have to give them an A for duplicity.

The greatest irony in all this is that for decades the Republicans claimed that the feds were meddling and that liberals were obsessed with regulating the masses. Well, now that the Neocons have had 6 years, the tables have turned, upside down. Increasingly, people are hungry for that more minimal form of Democratic regulation.

Posted by: DC outsider on May 21, 2006 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

When we consider Feith, we should keep in mind his first brilliant plan after 9/11. If we had listened to Feith, we could have struck Al Qaeda a killing blow where they least expected it, in South America. Or maybe it was Antartica - those penguins always seemed a little dodgy to me.

Given a key strategist seriously advocating that we take our dirsction from Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition, it's little surprise he had no interest in policing the rubble of Iraq. I can just imagine him training troops of Iraqi police to perform perfect imitations of John Cleese's inspector.

Posted by: Warren Terra on May 21, 2006 at 2:49 AM | PERMALINK

The Guardian also has a really good piece on how FUBARed Iraq is:


Posted by: Stuart Staniford on May 21, 2006 at 3:23 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you still don't get it.

War Profiteers.

If this war lasts forever, it's by design. They're writing their own paycheck, and they're sure as hell not going to stop until someone stops them.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on May 21, 2006 at 4:03 AM | PERMALINK

It is the Iraq army that should have taken up the task of policing, and it did not exist yet. Garner was wrong in this case.

I read the article, it ignores the basic problem, Iraq was a case of martial law after the war. They needed troops, either American or Iraqi.

The fault lies in the lack of troops. Police were, and are, currently useless in dealing with militias. There was ever a point where Iraq was stable enough politically for an interior ministry, much less police forces. Except, of course, Kurdistan and possibly Basra. Even in Basra, today, I think they are still better off with Iraqi troops, trained by the British military rather than police.

Posted by: Matt on May 21, 2006 at 4:03 AM | PERMALINK

DCoutsider, I don't know if you mean to make it sound like an accident, but there is no irony. Given the chance, these people have exposed their natural behavior: elitist (among their own), immoral, authoritarian and, ultimately, unpatriotic.

matt -- army and police have contradictory roles. Even after 30 years experience, the British Army does not conflate the two, although you might need the army to provide the umbrella under which policing is carried out. Disregarding that Bremer disbanded the army, the US problem is not recognizing the severity of the problem and trying to short-cut the solution -- both with the police and the security forces/army. Until they can be properly trained, have their own officer and NCO corps, and be self-disciplining, you have nothing. 3 plus years in that's what we have for both forces. Zip.

We/They have truly f'd this up. And with it the country.

Try this link, too. Towards the bottom, read Greenstock on how he sees the possibility of failure. Then put it in context. A career diplomat, he was then the British special envoy to Iraq and as such nominally second to Bremer into 2004. Previously he was UK ambassador to the UN. He's speaking in November '03.


This is the same Greenstock whose book has been shelved (sorry!) since the UK government censored the meat out of it. Something about too many quotes from confidential conversations with Blair and the UN security council and not complimentary to Bremer, Rice, the appointed council, etc., and calls the war "illigitimate".

I have an Arab friend who keeps telling me it's all done to design and, I tell you, it is really hard to form a cogent argument as to how these people can be so wrong so much of the time unless it is on purpose. Could any group of people that has risen to these positions of power be so completely void of common sense or competence?

I ask you?

Posted by: notthere on May 21, 2006 at 5:21 AM | PERMALINK

In some ways it is almost boring to speak of the Bush Administration's stunning incompetence with respect to Iraq. Leaving aside tedious over generalisations by the Loony Left types, it strikes me that there was something particularly rotten in the heart of this American administration, a rottenness born of incompetence, sheer incompetence and an utter blindness born of utterly misplaced confidence.

Really quite painful.

Not as sexy as the War Profiteering and Evil Right songs the Loony Left wishes to sing, but I should think for Americans on the Right, more profoundly disturbing.

It is a pity that the ideologues, the Right Bolshies as I call them, persist in Stalinesque behaviour of singing out Party Propaganda and enabling this criminal incompetence. They only make the Left look better by doing so, but still the Chernoffian fable spinning 'good news' crew continues. Stupid idiot Righ Bolshy whankers

Posted by: The Lounsbury on May 21, 2006 at 6:15 AM | PERMALINK

How does one form a police department in a war zone? The argument is full of holes.

If you can form a police department, then where is the civilian control? If there is a civilian control then why isn't the army in its barracks?

The place is under military occupation, the lines of authority lead to the American general in charge, that precludes an Iraqi police force.

Plus the logistics simply do not fit. Why would you have 6,000 small town American police officers running around in Iraq just after a war, while it is still under occupation. You would be much better off with 6,000 additional military MPs, reporting to the general in charge. If that is your complaint, it might be justified.

Posted by: Matt on May 21, 2006 at 6:21 AM | PERMALINK

Matt --
The US problem has been they see it as a military problem and have never faced the social problems from day 1 (or D -1). Read the original link; priorities have been continually downgraded.

It's a question of seprartion of powers. Ask a soldier if he wants to be the police. And it's not a question of one without the other, so far. I would suggest N. Ireland at its worst as a near comparison.

One of Greenstock's criticisms was that Iraq should have immediately come under civil control, not military. One of the Iraqis' complaints would be that the lack of security means that there can be no effective civil authority. Our failure to create both security and police forces exposes us as an occupying power and diminshes the politicians in the eyes of their own people.

If you are not willing to train effective forces to replace you, when do you get to walk away? The party's getting really late to change the dance.

Posted by: notthere on May 21, 2006 at 6:43 AM | PERMALINK

This might not have helped much; if not here, then somewhere else:


Posted by: notthere on May 21, 2006 at 7:10 AM | PERMALINK

The Lounsbury : "a rottenness born of incompetence, sheer incompetence and an utter blindness born of utterly misplaced confidence.

This is the billion dollar question!

Please mark which of the following best explains why Bushco has been the worst President & Administration in the history of the world:

a. they knew WHAT to do, more or less, but just didn't know HOW to do it (incompetent)

b. their mental model of the world was grounded in a failed concepts such as government IS the problem, it's not my responsibility and it's real if you have faith (ignorant ideologues)

c. they actively screwed things up, because they wanted to retain the status of wartime president, secure the oil, & enrich Halliburton. (evil bastards)

d. they confuse FUBAR destruction and brilliance, and believe that time will prove how brilliant they are! (arrogant)

Posted by: PTate in MN on May 21, 2006 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK


is your multiple choice question aimed at Bush alone? I ask because any of the four (all of the four) choices fit multiple members of the administration and their congressional enablers.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 21, 2006 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin - Do you think it's a good idea for the Democats to stay fixated on 2003?

Seems like another Democrat suicide mission, to me.

Posted by: Paddy Whack on May 21, 2006 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

Over on The Scientific American website (www.sciam.com) is an article on an ingenious set of experiments with bonobos and orangutans, demonstrating that these apes can plan ahead. Evidently these apes do not work for this administation.

Posted by: Martin Richard on May 21, 2006 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

The past is about the only thing the left has. They have no plan for the future either domestically or internationally and the future does not bode too well. Maliki has formed a untiy government absent three critical positions which will be filled this week and Khalilzad has stated that "downsizing" our presence will begin this year. Maliki is proving to be the right person at the right place and if he is successful in tempering the sectarian violence and moving that government and country forward then our troops will be headed home. Couple that with a healthy economy and the left will have nothing. So the past is indeed what they need to cling on to for any hope. Certainly a US victory in Iraq and a growing economy are not in their favor. Interesting huh?

Posted by: Jay on May 21, 2006 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

While the training of Iraqs police force and nascent armed forces is a scandal, I keep wondering when Paul Bremer and his Young Republicans that ran the CPA in Iraq will go on trial for defrauding American taxpayers out of $8.8 billion? This may be the largest fraud and theft in the history of mankind and the Democrats havent said a peep about it. Where are the full-page ads in the New York Times, demanding Bremers indictment and possible execution?

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on May 21, 2006 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK


True, the left has nothing except peace, universal healthcare, better education, a cleaner environment, energy independence, better fiscal management, an end to corruption and cronyism and more equitable distribution of wealth to run on. Not a lot of things that average Americans care about.

Stephen Kriz

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on May 21, 2006 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Great buzz words Stephen, tell me precisely how that will be achieved. Plans, platforms, programs. Got any?

Posted by: Jay on May 21, 2006 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

It was just yesterday that the left was crying about the case of Khaled al-Masri regarding the violation of his civil rights, due process and fourth ammendment freedoms. Yet we now have Stephen calling for Bremers execution. Thanks for the laughs Stephen.

Posted by: Jay on May 21, 2006 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Increasingly, people are hungry for that more minimal form of Democratic regulation.

Minimal form of democratic regulation? Heh.

Uh, no. People are hungry for what they thought the repubs stood for, smaller government and lower taxes and less regulation. Instead, they currently have something that reminds them of democrats, just different.

Posted by: Red State Mike on May 21, 2006 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with Matt. We needed more MPs, not civilian police. Since the civil authority wasn't there, the police would have reported to no one.

But whatever it was we needed, it wasn't there.

Posted by: Red State Mike on May 21, 2006 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK


I'm sorry--besides tax cuts for rich investors, what is the current Republican domestic agenda? What exciting ideas will the Republicans be running on in the fall? Preventing the President from being investigated by maintaining control of both houses? A sure winner! How about a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? Score one for federalism and attention to the most important problems facing the base, er, the public.

For that matter, what is the "specific" plan for victory in Iraq?

As for Democrats and the items Stephen listed, there are literally scads of plans for all these things. Go to any liberal think-tank. The problem--it's hard for the media to pay attention to your plans when 1) you're in the minority and 2) you've had your head up your ass for five years.

Posted by: go vols on May 21, 2006 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Alex on May 21, 2006 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

6,000? 6,000?!?

I thought at the time that if the invasion had been immediately backed up by _100,000_ experienced policemen from New York, Los Angeles, London, Cario, Jakarta, etc., and they in turn reinforced by a strong reaction force of MPs and infantry, then the whole enterprise MIGHT have had a /chance/ of success.

6,000 would have been like 5 people pissing on a forest fire rather than just 1.

As Kevin says: utterly typical of the Radical neocons.


Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 21, 2006 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

"Stuff happens" --Rumsfeld

Especially when you don't have a police force... eh Rummy?

Posted by: koreyel on May 21, 2006 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK


Plan? Plan? We don't need no steenking plan!

Bush sucks!

Posted by: dnc on May 21, 2006 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Jay -

Why not make it even simpler, and accuse the Left of failing to realize that Iraq has ALREADY been pacified? - That ever since its pro-Western government recognized Israel back in 2004 the rest of the Arab Middle East has followed suit and a new era of peace and democratic politics has ensued? - That the steady ramping-up of Iraqi oil production, made possible by throwing the sector open to untrammeled foreign investment, has brought oil prices back below $20?

I mean, if you're going to take refuge in a sunnier parallel universe, why not make it a really, really great one?

Oh, and a pony for my daughter, too.

Posted by: Dave L on May 21, 2006 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Annyone stupid enough to invade Iraq in the first place was predictably going to be stupid in implementation. Just as Bush and co. systematically ignored people from Sandia and Los Alamos in evaluating the Iraqi 'nuclear threat', they ignored anyone with knowledge or experience of Arabs and the Middle East in administering the occupation. Knowing Arabic, for example, seems to have been an automatic disqualification.
Congress - including most prominent Democrats - and the vast majority of the press and pundits went along with this. With the ruling class we've got, any major crisis is likely to be the death of us.

Posted by: gcochran on May 21, 2006 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Why do we keep giving our money the these crooks?

Posted by: fred on May 21, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

I notice that someone above has implicitly accepted that these are some of Republicans' favorite things: war, no healthcare, poor education, a dirtier environment, energy dependence, fiscal mismanagement, corruption and cronyism, and more inequitable distribution of wealth. All because the opposites of these are impossible to achieve, and Dems are for them.

Americans will definitely go for that.

Posted by: lib on May 21, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

It's getting harder and harder to believe that someone can still support Bush. With any honesty at least. What a disaster.

Posted by: Where's osama on May 21, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK


Even Colin Powell said ". . . Deliberately misled".

Continue to buy into this "incompetence" tripe if you must. More and more of the rest of us are willing to accept the truth now, that incompetence is the excuse, the cover story. The real motivation was War Profiteering.

Free Market Fundamentalists like yourself just can't ever accept that their own political representatives would cast away their own ideology (that markets are perfect and will fix everything) to use political force to manipulate economies in their favor.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on May 21, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

incompetence is the excuse, the cover story. The real motivation was War Profiteering.

They aren't mutually exclusive. On the contrary, greed clouds judgement.

Posted by: obscure on May 21, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see any plan by Dem's to all call together for a withdrawal to the Murtha line?
I don't see any Dem plan to impeach the criminal lunatics that started this disaster.
I don't see any Dem proposal to rein in the out-of-control bureaucracy of the pentagons. The largest out-of-control bureaucracy in the world.
Sadly I don't see any plan by Drum to become a political animal intstead of a political vegetable either.
But so long as we all agree that a technocratic elite always run things and the state sector always grows who the fuck needs a plan anyway?
Right Kevin?

Posted by: professor rat on May 21, 2006 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see...

Any plan at all by THE REPUBLICAN CONTROLLED Congress or the REPUBLICAN CONTROLLED Administration to do anything remotely useful or relevant. Lots of pandering to the base and tax cuts for the well off though...

Posted by: Butch on May 21, 2006 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

from the article:

"Looking back, I really don't know what their plan was," Mr. Kerik said. With no experience in Iraq, and little time to get ready, he said he prepared for his job in part by watching A&E Network documentaries on Saddam Hussein.

its not worse than you can imagine...

its worse than can be imagined...

we told you so

Posted by: thisspaceavailble on May 21, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

If the _reason_ for Iraq is war profiteering, why are Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden all for 'staying the course'? Do they have all their money invested in merchants of death?
Somehow I doubt it. I think they follow the polls, sometimes: I think they aren't very smart (certainly Joe isn't) or very knowledgeable about international affairs: I think they listen to their big donors: I think they worry about losing face. The typical mishmash of motives that make people do stupid things.
I suspect it was fairly similar with the Administration. Starting out with a toxic mix of ignorance and cockiness, they thought Iraq woud be easy and fun; when it wasn't they couldn't figure out what to do, still can't, and would rather spend a trillion dollars and fuck up the Army rather than admit a mistake. Which makes them traitors, of course, but that's pretty much the norm nowadays.

Posted by: gcochran on May 21, 2006 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

When we consider Feith, we should keep in mind his first brilliant plan after 9/11. If we had listened to Feith, we could have struck Al Qaeda a killing blow where they least expected it, in South America. Or maybe it was Antartica - those penguins always seemed a little dodgy to me.

You really can't blame Feith for recommending that we attack South America in response to 9/11, he was simply doing his job. In the strategy meetings he bravely donned his pointy wizard's hat, rolled his two twenty-sideds and consulted the appropriate attack table.

Turns out he rolled a 99 which was an attack on South America using owlbears.

Had he rolled a double zero then we would have attacked the penguins.

Posted by: Windhorse on May 21, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

cheney above references ww-2 leaders....


Days since September 11, 2001 that Osama bin Laden has remained uncaptured: close to 1700

Days after bombing Pearl Harbor that Japan surrendered to U.S. forces: 1,365

Posted by: thisspaceavailable on May 21, 2006 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

It's not merely incompetence. It's primarily indifference, of which incompetence is perhaps an epiphenomenon.

As I said yesterday in my own discussion of the NYT article, the point it hammers home is how many times plans were proposed, and then forgotten, or ignored, or nickled-and-dimed to the point of disappearance. If you just don't care to fix it, then of course whatever you do will be incompetent. Here's the link at Inconvenient News


Posted by: smintheus on May 21, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Maliki is proving to be the right person at the right place and if he is successful in tempering the sectarian violence and moving that government and country forward then our troops will be headed home."

Wow - reaching new heights of self-delusion every day. Wake up, Jay. Bush has no intention of bringing the troops home; we aren't building giant bases and the world's largest fortress-embassy for nothing. Not only that, but the American people no longer trust Bush to even manage a home aquarium. His credibility is GONE, and it won't be coming back.

Posted by: Red on May 21, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

"FUBAR" was a term originally applied to America's effort in WWII. AS USED, it merely referred to the many annoying imperfections in what is actually a successful military enterprise. So it is in this case by Kevin Drum. It's about as useful as pointing out that the cabinet in the current government still lacks three ministers.

Syria, Iran, and the PA might be FUBAR, but Iraq is under "repair". 1.2 million refugees from Iraq have returned to Iraq in the past 3 years. Much, if not most, of the devastation caused to the Marsh Arabs by the Baathist govt. has been "repaired". Electricity generation exceeds pre-war levels (if you include the private off-grid suppliers), and is distributed more equitably. Despite long lines at the gas stations, total mileage driven is 5 times the prewar level, and suicide bombers leave the gas lines alone, for some reason. GDP per person is 25% higher than the pre-war level, and growing faster than in Syria, Turkey, and Iran.

For real FUBAR, you should read, not just about WWII, but the Union effort in the "Civil War".

Posted by: republicrat on May 21, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Red, I wonder do you have any proof of your claims, or just conspiracy theory?

Posted by: DemocRAT on May 21, 2006 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

DemocRAT, late but proof --
You have to wonder, after 3 years, why we are investing so much mioney in bases if everything is going so well and troops ae about to come home!

Fact. Look at the news this last week: Rumsfeld was asked directly if there would be troop draw downs this year. Rumsfeld said he didn't know.

So much for Iraqi security forces and police "stepping up so US forces can step down". We, literally, have no idea at the highest level. How we are doing?

Ok, Bushie supporters, where from here?

Posted by: notthere on May 22, 2006 at 12:35 AM | PERMALINK

Chaos, they say, in Iraq.
Suicide bombers followed by Shia death squads.
Deadbeat ex-Baathists and Islamic belt bombers followed by Shia death squads.

The number of Sunni middle class leaving is approaching 10% of the Sunni population, going to Syria and Jordan.

George Will has come out against the war, Buckley is agin it. Republican conservatives are agin it.

Why not announce a withrawal plan? The sectarian violence is mainly in central Iraq, let them sort it out themselves. I do not think there is any use for American troops. They have a government as good as they will have for some time, nothing we can do will improve it.

Posted by: Matt on May 22, 2006 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

we needed to have sufficient number of American advisors in each of the thousand police stations. That would have meant a British colonial type of an occupation

No, it would have meant nothing of the sort. The British would never have had anything like an officer in each of a thousand police stations for a territory like Iraq. Not even the French would have had such a pervasive presence, and their empire involved vastly more manpower and a more intrusive presence than the British one did. I'm not sure any occupation has ever involved posting homeland personnel in each of a thousand police stations.

Posted by: brooksfoe on May 22, 2006 at 5:50 AM | PERMALINK

OMFG did you see your posting from EXACTLY two years ago?
General Tommy Franks, 2000-2003: Doug Feith is "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth."

Posted by: doug r on May 22, 2006 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK



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